I’m spending one more evening on Walt Whitman, mostly because his prescience pretty much included us about 125 years after his death. Last night I briefly mentioned that in Democratic Vistas, Walt addresses his observations and offers his opinion about America.
He believes, on a basic level, America held new hope for a new society. He sees America through the eyes, what he viewed as the intentions, of the founders. He knows the possibilities, but he recognizes the struggling nation America has become. He experienced the Civil War first-hand, and the throes of the end of slavery and new rights of many to vote, all while the travesty of Reconstruction corruption is occurring. In his epic volume of poetry, Leaves of Grass, one that evolved until the year of his death, he rises above what is to envision what could be in his elevated, spiritual vision.
Walt faces reality, though, always with a view to the ideals upon which he feels America is founded. As he presents these in Democratic Vistas, he exposes darkness and offers possible solutions. He encourages the reader and makes his expectations known.
The forty-six pages that Vistas span in my volume could be unpacked into many essays to examine, but I want to take one kernel of thought, one that slides from spirituality into politics and the connection Walt sees between the two. He senses that America won’t work as an enduring democracy without spiritual awakening, coming to know core Self, Heart, and living in purpose of that Self.
He speaks of “personalism,” the idea of individuals who come to know their personal truth. He refers to “the identified soul” coming to that identity through individuality; organized religion, creeds, doctrines do not bring a person to self-identity: “Personalism fuses this [identified soul], and favors it. … Alone, and silent thought and awe, and aspiration — and then the interior consciousness, like a hitherto unseen inscription, in magic ink, beams out its wondrous lines to the sense…it is exclusively for the noiseless operation of one’s isolated Self, to enter the pure ether of veneration, reach the divine levels, and commune with the unutterable” (481). An individual comes to know core Self independently of all others, because the second others get involved, telling you the right way is this here or there, Ego is involved. This is all Heart.
But what the heck does Heart have to do with the course of America? Walt slides right into that immediately at the beginning of the next paragraph: “To practically enter into politics is an important part of American personalism” (481). While he stands for equality and the common humanity — not feudalistic hierarchy which he discusses in the essay — he thinks the design of America is one that opens the door for every individual to become self-aware, and if the democracy is to flourish, self-aware people need to be involved. Knowing Heart means less possibility of being swayed by Ego ploys of others for selfish purposes.
In fact, having identified our own Self and discovered our personal truth, we can more aptly evaluate where candidates are coming from and pursue our citizenship in an enlightened way, thinking for ourselves: “It is the fashion among dilettantes and fops…to decry the whole formulation of the active politics of America, as beyond redemption…do not fall into this error…Always inform yourselves; always do the best you can; always vote. Disengage yourselves from parties. They have been useful, and to some extent still are. ... For America, if eligible for downfall, is eligible within herself…” (481–482). Dilettantes and fops are people who put on a show but have no substance. Awakened individuals have the substance of eternal Spirit that they have tuned into. We don’t need a party line to think for us. If we don’t think for ourselves, the nation is over.
Walt goes on to say in the same paragraph that the danger America is to herself is that she will become “more and more combative, less and less tolerant of the idea of ensemble and of equal brotherhood, the perfect equality of the States, the ever-overarching American ideas” (482). If you know yourself, then “it behooves you to convey yourself implicitly to no party, nor submit blindly to their dictators, but steadily hold yourself judge and master over all of them” (482). Yeah, you see, I think Walt’s take on things is very apropos to our situation today. A harmonic blend of equality for all can only come through Heart.
He ends the essay with the idea that people need to be stimulated towards discovering Self and creating the idealized vision of America though a new literature, like his poems. He felt he never arrived at his envisioned form, but I beg to differ. His take on the responsibility of the individual, though, is nothing short of the way every author should think. Authors and poets write, and the readers complete the work. We hold the key to the final message, the consequence of the writing. He associates this with the success of America, especially in light of the colossal failure of the nation within it’s first hundred plus years, much of which Walt lived in.
He says: “In fact, a new theory of literary composition for imaginative works of the very first class, and especially for highest poems, is the sole course open to these States” (500). Why? Because those become what minds and souls under the guidance of and in fellowship with the Heart can use to awaken us to the issues and conduct of the nation.
How should we use these books and poems? By engaging our enlightened minds and impassioned souls: “Books are to be call’d for, and supplied, on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half-sleep…the reader is to do something from himself, must be on the alert, must himself or herself construct indeed the poem, argument, history, metaphysical essay — the text furnishing the hints, the clue, the start or framework. Not the book so much needs to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does” (501). The current furor and confusion about “fake news” would not be occurring if we read with Heart motive force, with awakened minds and souls. We would recognize and throw out those trying to deceive and manipulate.
Know what we believe, why we believe it, and evaluate everything in the light of our personal truth. Then, discussion can happen, because we are not threatened. If we don’t know our own truth, Ego will always be combatting and justifying in an unhealthy way.
Well, that is it for Democratic Vistas in this little three day peek at it.
Awakened people with enlightened souls knowing the value and worth of every person — now that could change the face of America. The nation was designed with that in mind. Honestly, I don’t know if redemption exists. If it does, education needs to be redefined with these principles in mind, and awakened souls need to be active in very real, everyday life.
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!